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Eye on Psi Chi: Summer 2008
Faculty Advisors' Voices:
Chapter Growth Challenges in
Leading Local Chapters

Melanie M. Domenech Rodriguez, PhD, and Kristina McDougal
Utah State University

In 2007, McDougal and Domenech Rodríguez surveyed faculty advisors and student members of Psi Chi to examine leadership characteristics and chapter outcomes (McDougal & Domenech Rodríguez, 2008). In the spring 2007 survey, we secured participation from 259 faculty advisors from across the nation.1 Amid survey questions, faculty advisors were asked the open-ended question: "What would help you be a better faculty advisor to your local Psi Chi chapter?” We wanted to share with you the fascinating answers to this seemingly simple question.

Of those participating faculty members, a robust 160 (62%) provided information on the open-ended question. Comments were short (range of 1 to 217 words [M = 27.8, SD = 31.9]). Given their brevity, their similarities and depth were surprising. A review of these responses showed a clear pattern of responses that could be helpful to local chapters, regional vice-presidents, and the Psi Chi National Council and National Office. Moreover, these findings may be of interest, and possibly even validating, to faculty advisors who are trying to be the best possible faculty advisors they can be.

Faculty advisors were primarily female (62.5%) and White American (88.1%), with an average age of almost 41 years (SD = 10.9). Male faculty advisors were slightly older (M = 44.0, SD = 11.4) than females (M = 38.8, SD = 10.2). Faculty advisors had been in the position a mean of 5.7 years, with a range of 1 month to 30 years. All Psi Chi regions were represented: Eastern (30%), Midwestern (29.5%), Southeastern (21.8%), Southwestern (8.7%) Western (6.8%), and Rocky Mountain (3.2%). These numbers are somewhat consistent with the "size” of the regions.

I need time!
The primary theme that emerged from these open-ended responses was that faculty advisors needed more time engaged with the role. Fully 42.5% (n = 69) of those who provided responses stated that they needed more time. One faculty member humorously wrote that she needed "The 28 hour day....” While most were general in their response, one faculty advisor provided information of special interest:

Time. I'm still new at this and am slowly learning all the ways Psi Chi can benefit our students. Psi Chi was inactive before I was appointed as faculty advisor so I'm essentially trying to raise a Phoenix from the ashes without any help from the former advisor or knowledge[able] members of Psi Chi. All I have to go on is the Handbook— and that is a lot of information to process.

In the context of limited time, another faculty advisor shared her struggles in choosing to remain a faculty advisor. She described balancing her disappointment in her performance based on self-imposed standards and yet understanding that her "lesser” performance is potentially "greater” than most others might give:

Right now, I feel isolated and uncertain, although I recognize that that is due to my inability to make Psi Chi a priority and give it the time it really deserves. I enjoy my role of Psi Chi advisor, but feel like I'm not the advisor that the chapter needs to be all that it can be. On the other hand, I think I'm doing much better than what would happen if I weren't advising, because I do put time and energy into making it work, and I'm not sure any of my current colleagues would do so.

Many other faculty mentioned time constraints in the context of their multiple roles. For example, I don't know that there is any more the National Office could do to help. Serving as faculty advisor to Psi Chi takes more time than most other service roles in the department, and yet only about 5% of my distribution of effort can be assigned to service. Since I also serve on department committees (e.g., curriculum committee), and this is part of the 5%, that doesn't leave much time for me to work on and ponder ways to strengthen our Psi Chi chapter.

I need active chapter members!
The second, most common challenge was related to student participation. Many faculty complained about student participation overall (n = 36). Faculty also mentioned specifically challenges in motivating students to be more involved and challenges with leadership abilities of their local council members. One faculty member wrote, it would help if the students understood the value of Psi Chi. There is no institutional example/memory for them, so they don't understand that Psi Chi can be an active group.

Another faced practical constraints:

I don't have a consistent number of old members. We are basically a 2 yr school (junior and senior) with a brand new smattering of freshmen. This year there is one old Psi Chi member. We are having an induction in a few weeks—then most of these people will graduate.

Another faculty member took a more philosophical stance:

I try to maintain that Psi Chi is a student run organization— and as such, there is wide variability in how involved Psi Chi is on campus. Our success depends on the students at the time. To establish a more consistent presence, I founded and run [a] Colloquia Series … but this tends to be where most of my time goes. Unless, that is, we have a rare semester with highly involved students.

Faculty reported important contextual considerations, for example, our school is still coping with the issues of having mostly working/commuter students which decreases the amount of time they can spend on extra-curricular activities.

In addition to student composition, school size was noted:

It also hurts that we have a relatively small cadre of undergrad's in our department (70-80 majors) and it's hard to organize many activities with the minority that choose to take part in Psi Chi.

Another faculty advisor questioned whether student involvement was necessary:

Our chapter is not very active. Students are happy to get the honor but are not very interested in being involved. Perhaps this is not a problem at all. If Psi Chi is strictly an honors society then being involved may not be necessary. This seems to be the attitude in our chapter.

Some faculty advisors had very specific student-related challenges, for example,

it’s difficult to get the Psi Chi officers to engage the Psi Chi web page system.

That same advisor recommended, How about a brochure that could be given to the Psi Chi officers each year that would instruct them on how to log into this system and their responsibilities for record keeping?

Another faculty advisor lamented not having an efficient means of transitioning between officers (some years it is a breeze [,] other years it feels like I'm running the organization).

From a more positive vantage point, a faculty advisor stated,

I think the thing that has been most useful in getting myself that type of information is having energetic, responsible, and proactive student officers to whom I can delegate those responsibilities.

—supporting the notion that student involvement is critical to local chapters’ success.

I need training and consultation!
A sizeable (n = 25) number of faculty advisors mentioned a desire for either formal training and/or contact with other faculty advisors. Some faculty wanted resources and training from the National Office and/or regional VPs. Specifically, 14 faculty advisors reported that some formal training for them in assuming the role for the local chapter would help them be better advisors.

One participant expressed it well and offered a recommendation,

Ideally, I think it would be fantastic if I were able to go to a conference or professional meeting that was specifically geared toward helping orient faculty advisors, help work on chapter development, and other Psi Chi-oriented tasks. This would be especially valuable if Psi Chi could offer funding for advisors to travel to such a conference.

Others in this domain wanted contact with other faculty advisors who could provide a more consistent and tailored opportunity for mentorship and guidance in the faculty advisor role.

I need to know more about what I don’t know
At least 15 faculty reported needing more experience in order to be better faculty advisors. Of these, seven explicitly stated not knowing enough to be able to identify what might make them better faculty advisors. One respondent was especially eloquent:

I am so new I just need a year under my belt to learn what I need to learn. I don't even know enough to know what questions I need to ask yet :).

I need …
There were many other needs noted, and in the spirit of making everyone’s voices heard, we have listed those that were mentioned by at least 3 faculty.

I need more institutional support.
A number of faculty (n = 13) mentioned institutional barriers to their effectiveness, including general support, departmental support and/or recognition, more faculty involvement, and practical support. On this last item, one faculty member noted, it would be helpful if our registrar would get the transcripts to our department in a more timely fashion so I can look for prospective new members who qualify.

Faculty also mentioned specifically desiring more faculty involvement (n = 4), secretarial support (n = 2), and course releases (n = 2) to handle the demands of the position. One faculty alluded to the desire for institutional support in the form of a simple recognition:

recognition of the role of Psi Chi advisor that could be communicated to the department and recognized by the University.

I need to put forth more effort.
A few faculty (n = 5) specifically mentioned that they needed to put forth more effort without any qualifiers. One faculty offered an interesting perspective on her advising approach:

I think that one of the key issues is the advisor's 'philosophy' toward Psi Chi. I see it as a 'student club'—so it succeeds and/or fails according to the leadership. I see myself as a resource person. My own failing is not knowing as much about what Psi Chi has to offer than I should have …. Our students are just too busy to put much time into Psi Chi. We are looking into the idea of members earning points toward having their medallions paid for.

I need a coadvisor.
Some faculty (n = 3) thought a coadvisor would be beneficial:

A coadvisor, so that I wouldn't have to do everything by myself. I get help on specific events or activities when I ask. It would be nice to have someone there regularly and not have the entire responsibility.

Thoughts for the National Office
Faculty noted a desire for more information about Psi Chi resources (n = 14), specifically about regional conferences (n = 2), regional and national initiatives (n = 1), research grants and opportunities (n = 9), and specific ideas for chapter activities (n = 1). Here are some of the ideas:

  • A handbook (of sorts) with information about Psi Chi and all the programs/grants available from Psi Chi National all compiled in one place (including descriptions and general deadlines). I realize that much of the information is available online, however one needs to know that it exists in order to search for it.
  • Perhaps an online bulletin board/blog for advisors to ask and answer each others' questions
  • Simpler emails describing specific opportunities that can be digested and forwarded to interested students.
  • … a certificate of acknowledgement for my tenure file would be very nice. Psi Chi advisement is quite time consuming, and is one of the service activities of which I am most proud. Although I have documentation of our chapter activities, I have very little 'official' documentation from national for my file. I know this sounds petty, but for those of us who are pretenure (and I know there are many!), this could be very helpful.
  • A few emailings beginning with a few bulleted points with URLs to click on for detailed information. OR, anything that streamlines the process.
  • I think it might be helpful if there were programs and ideas to help programs at small schools (such as how to network with other schools, funds for speakers [,] etc.)
  • More mechanisms to support minority institutions. The faculty at these institutions are usually overburdened with teaching & [and] advising and have to work with students of limited skills. However, we are asked to compete for recognition with much larger and prestigious schools.

A few faculty offered words of praise for the National Office. One of our overworked faculty advisors said he "always gain[s] more insight at the advisors' luncheons and other events at regional and national conventions.” At least five other faculty advisors offered unprompted praise for the National Leadership Conference. One even noted that regional leadership conferences "would be a great help as well.”

Conclusions
Overall, local chapter advisors showed a certain degree of convergence when identifying what they need to be "better faculty advisors.” We were struck especially by the stated needs for more time, more active students, and training/consultation which were voiced by many faculty advisors. One could argue that 16% of the sample (25 of 160) is a relatively small number; however, it is critical to keep in mind that these responses were spontaneously generated. It is quite likely that, should these issues be presented in a survey form to chapter advisors, the number of faculty who would endorse them as relevant would be much higher. We are hopeful that the information presented here will (a) be validating to faculty advisors who have been struggling to lead their local chapters—you are not alone in your struggles, (b) serve as a foundation for future Psi Chi focused research, and (c) serve as a spring board for discussions at the regional and national level for Psi Chi in creating and augmenting programs that support our faculty advisors in what can be a tremendously satisfying yet thankless task. In the mean time, we would like to turn into advice, the sage struggle of one of our faculty respondents, "Patience my dear ... patience.”

Reference
McDougal, K., & Domenech Rodríguez, M. M. (2008). Factors affecting Psi Chi members’ satisfaction with research opportunities. Retrieved April 21, 2008, from http://www.psichi.org/
awards/winners/hunt_reports/mcdougal.asp


Listening to Faculty Advisors’ Voices
Virginia Andreoli Mathie,
Psi Chi Executive Director

Members of the Psi Chi National Council and National Office greatly appreciate the dedicated service and leadership provided by you, the Psi Chi chapter faculty advisors. We know it takes much time and effort on your part to advise a chapter. We want to know your needs and concerns and respond to your requests for assistance. We welcome your suggestions for new resources that will help you in your faculty advisor role. We thank Domenech Rodríguez and McDougal for their informative survey and would like to take this opportunity to highlight some suggestions and existing resources that might address some of the faculty advisors’ needs they identified in their research.

I need time!

  • Use the Faculty Advisors’ Resource Page webpage to get immediate assistance with questions that frequently arise in your role as a faculty advisor.
  • Use the Chapter Activity Guide webpage to save time generating ideas for chapter activities and projects.
  • Invite another faculty member to serve as a coadvisor for your chapter and share the responsibilities and workload.

I need active chapter members!

  • Request free copies of the new Psi Chi brochure that highlights the benefits of being a Psi Chi member.
  • Distribute copies of Eye on Psi Chi so that your chapter members can read about the winners of Psi Chi’s grants and awards and the many activities described in the Chapter Activities section.
  • Watch for the upcoming e-book that will compile Psi Chi resources that help students succeed in their chapter, college, and career and help chapters enhance their success.
  • Forward the link to the document "Using the Psi Chi Website” to assist your chapter officers in using the Psi Chi website.
  • Use the Chapter Handbook and the Chapter Officer Guidelines to inform your chapter officers about their duties and to assist with the transition to new officers.
  • Partner with another Psi Chi chapter (or a Psi Beta chapter) in your vicinity to share the workload of planning programs and to increase the number of people at Psi Chi events.

I need training and consultation!

  • Register for the next Psi Chi National Leadership Conference that will be held in Nashville, TN January 2–4, 2009. Psi Chi will provide funding assistance to many of the participants.
  • Attend the Psi Chi faculty advisors’ appreciation breakfast or lunch at your regional psychology conference to talk informally with other faculty advisors.
  • Attend sessions for faculty advisors offered at your Psi Chi regional psychology conference. If your region does not offer such a program, contact the Psi Chi regional vice-president and suggest this session.

I need from the National Office

  • Use the CD in the Psi Chi annual fall mailing to chapters to get a complete set of Psi Chi handbooks; forms for chapters, chapter officers, and members; and cover sheets for Psi Chi awards and grants.
  • Forward to your chapter officers each issue of the Psi Chi Digest containing bulleted announcements and reminders of upcoming deadlines for Psi Chi awards, grants, and other programs.
  • See the Psi Chi website for information about Certificates of Appreciation for Psi Chi faculty advisors.
  • Check the Psi Chi National Office website to identify the staff person to contact when you have questions or need assistance. Remember staff members are there to help you! Don’t hesitate to contact us for assistance.


Melanie Domenech Rodríguez, PhD, is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Utah State University (USU). She has been the faculty mentor for the USU Psi Chapter since 2002. She has served as RMPA Steering Committee Member (2003-05) and as Rocky Mountain Region Vice-President (2005-present). As a faculty advisor, Dr. Domenech Rodríguez has promoted excellence among Psi Chi members. Since 2002, USU Psi Chi members have applied for and secured multiple undergraduate research grants at USU. Members have also applied for and successfully obtained funding for Psi Chi national research grants, including the Thelma Hunt, Undergraduate Research Grants, and Graduate Research Grants. Additionally, in 2003, the USU chapter held the first Psi Chi Psychology Undergraduate Research Conference, which has since become an annual event. Dr. Domenech Rodríguez is an avid researcher and is currently examining the impact of a preventive intervention for Spanish-speaking parents of young children with challenging behaviors through a NIMH K01 award.

Kristina McDougal received her bachelor’s degree in psychology with honors and a minor in human resources from Utah State University in June 2007. While at Utah State University, she was the Psi Chi’s chapter president and served on the regional steering committee, worked at the University Counseling Center as a reach peer, and worked as a youth counselor at the Youth Track Club. As a reach peer, Ms. McDougal assisted clinicians in relaxation, stress management social skills, and assertiveness training interventions. As a youth counselor, she supervised adolescent male sex offenders and assisted in teaching the offenders skills that prepared them to be a contributing member of society.

Author’s note. The information presented in this piece was gathered as part of a Thelma Hunt grant awarded to the second author. The authors are grateful to the National Office of Psi Chi for the research support. The authors also wish to thank participating faculty advisors who shared with us their insights and their precious time.

Copyright 2008 (Volume 12, Issue 4) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology



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